Blog WHS Visits

WHS #640: Gorham's Cave

Gorham’s Cave Complex is Gibraltar’s only WHS to date, and it was the main venue of this year’s World Heritage Travellers meeting. This Complex comprises four caves where tangible remains of the Neanderthaler way of life have been found. No skulls or other bones have been discovered in these particular caves (yet), but the archaeologists have been lucky earlier this year to find a Neanderthaler milk tooth!

Overview of the core zone

The Cave Complex is located at the southeastern tip of Gibraltar and its Rock. After casually strolling across the Spanish-British border and crossing the empty air strip, we took bus number 2 from the town center to Europa Point. Europa Point is a collection of monuments and memorials such as a 19th century lighthouse. The main landmark nowadays is the Saudi sponsored Mosque of The Custodian of the The Holy Mosques.

We all gathered a bit further up the road at the Europa Advance Viewing Platform. I had unsuccessfully tried to find it on a map beforehand: this is a piece of tourist infrastructure still in the making. Essentially the 1st and 2nd Europa Advance Battery are being turned into viewing platforms and small scale interpretation centres. The Gibraltar Museum still has to clean up the 2nd Battery which has been used for firing practice by the army until recently. The 1st Battery is almost ready now: there are toilets and the structures to hold information panels have been placed. The information itself is still missing though, and entrance to the Battery is closed to unannounced visitors unlike ourselves.

Military reminders everywhere

The site of the future viewing platform has been chosen well. From there the entrances to the caves can be seen clearly. The inscribed area also covers their natural surroundings, which essentially cover the southeastern flank of the Rock of Gibraltar. Our WH Travellers group was treated to an introduction talk about the area by Sue Davies of the Gibraltar Museum and two staff. It actually is quite hard to imagine what the landscape would have looked like, as the sea level was much lower when the Neanderthaler lived here and the cave dwellers looked out over a coastal plain. After the talk our group was split into two: 10 lucky ones were to go into the military zone, down the stairs and all up to the entrance of Gorham’s Cave. For conservation reasons the cave itself is closed to visitors. I’ll leave it to one of them to write a review of that experience.

The others returned to the town center of Gibraltar, for a more in-depth presentation of the site at the Gibraltar Museum. Sue gave an interesting behind-the-scenes look at how the inscription came about and what the future plans are. I found out why the name of the WHS was changed from “Gibraltar Neanderthal Caves and Environments” to “Gorham’s Cave Complex” at the final stages of its inscription – apparently the Spanish objected to the use of the Spanish translation of the word “Environments”.

The Cave Complex

The Gibraltar Museum does offer all tidbits of local history that can be expected from a regional museum of this size. Findings from the caves mainly include animal bones and stone tools. A difficult task lies ahead of the Gibraltar Museum team to find a way to further promote Gorham’s Cave despite its inaccessibility and conservation issues. Our WH Travellers group (rebranded during the meeting into the "World Heritage Appreciation Society") received a very warm welcome and good introduction to the site by them.

Els - 10 September 2017

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Nan 19 January 2038

@Clyde: I would keep the boat ride unless it really messes up your itinerary. The views you will get should be nice. The other option is to hike the Mediterranean Steps which should be on the border of the core zone.

Clyde 11 September 2017

Thanks Els. I sent an email to the Gibraltar Museum for confirmation. I'm going to keep my booking just in case. If they confirm it will be accessible I'll let everybody know. Looking forward to you review on Antequera (hopefully before next Friday, at least in Dutch!)

Els Slots 11 September 2017

@Clyde: Yes, the photos are taken from the viewing platform. However, I doubt that it will be open next week. They haven't really finished it and did not name an opening date. I heard they closed the gate again after we left (maybe one of the other participants can affirm or deny this?)

Clyde 10 September 2017

Thanks for the review, Els. I'll be there next Sunday and at themoment I'm booked on a Dolphin Adventure Boat Trip.

Are the cave photos in your review taken from the europa viewing platform? If yes, is it freely accessible for all or you had the privilege because they knew about you beforehand?

I think I'd skip the boat trip if I'm guaranteed to see the actual caves (from a viewing platform on land).

Colvin 10 September 2017

I'm sorry that only a limited group could go see the caves up close, and that there was no access into a cave, but it still sounds like you had a great trip to Gorham's Cave. I'll be curious to find out if they have completed the viewing platform by the time I can venture out to Gibraltar. Hope everyone who made it to the World Heritage Appeciations Society meet-up this year had fun!